To misquote Bob Marley: “There’s an air of unnatural mystic” surrounding the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. To quote our prime minister, ostensibly quoting the IMPACS report: “Only those engaged in ‘wilfull blindness’ would pretend our only law enforcement agency is not in total dissaray.”As if already that were not bad enough, the acknowledged (by the prime minister) disenchantment, anxiety and low morale among members of the force are further exacerbated by a Minister of National Justice obviously out of his depth.
The prime minister’s IMPACS-related comments added more bodies to the pyre. And now many officers are asking whether there was more to the address delivered by Dr. Anthony than met their ears. Was it mere coincidence that the prime minister’s speech was headed “New times, New leadership?” Did it have anything to do with the prime minister’s earlier declaration that the IMPACS report, that he promised not to prejudge, was in fact “damning?” Who exactly are the damned?
Said Dr. Anthony in his most recent statement to the nation’s far from happy guardians of life and property during a promotions ceremony: “You know the rigours and challenges of working in law enforcement. You know the sacrifices that are made, personally, and by your loved ones, in your exercise of duty. You know what it has taken to reach this far: the time and effort, the dedication to your duties and your personal pathways towards self-development.
“Today’s promotion exercise must build the collective confidence of the society in its principal law enforcement agency.”
At this point the prime minister’s address seemed to take a curious turn, perhaps in the direction of IMPACS: “Society will have more confidence in a police force in which they know officers are led by women and men of character, courage and independence, totally and absolutely committed to applying the law without motive, ill-will or malice. The police force must not be a place of refuge for those who harbour hatred and ill-will to others, be it their neighbour or otherwise.”
For some, the above-quoted lines were a naked warning, hopefully appeasing to the US State Department, of a planned imminent cleansing of the force, beginning with vactioning commissioner Vernon Francois.
The prime minister observed that until quite recently the matter of police promotions had been a been “a vexed issue.”
“It has undoubtedly been a source of anxiety and embarrassment for the entire force, with accusations of cliques and circles holding sway when it came to advancement through the ranks,” said the PM. “It has taken us some time to design and implement a formula for promotions in the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. This new system may not be perfect but it is far better than what existed in the past.”Additionally: “Whatever flaws exist, we need to resolve them, as it is vital that all police officers are confident in the decisions yielded by the process. We must make a break with the past.”
He blamed on an earlier promotion system police “demotivation and demoralisation, corruption, abuse of power, disrespect and insubordination, and indeed, even attrition of those who are frustrated.”
He said: “It is crucial that we move to a system that is clear and accountable and which leans less on the influence of the subjective and more on the objectivity of testing, examinations and formal interviews. Finding the right balance in developing a framework for promotions has thus been no easy accomplishment in itself.”
He came finally to the IMPACS elephant in the room. “In the past few months,” said the prime minister, “we know of the deep challenges that have come to the fore regarding the alleged actions and involvement of some members of the force. This has meant challenges at all levels, from constable to commissioner, from police to politician.
“If we can sum up very succinctly what is at issue, it is this: no one is above the law. Everyone must be accountable for their actions. This applies not only to the parliamentarians who make the law, but also to those who are entrusted to administer and pronounce on the law in the name of the society. For me, the law is majestic; when a police officer uses the law as an instrument of revenge, spite and ill-will then he or she has no place in the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.”
In an earlier national address, the prime minister said some of the crimes that made headlines were committed not only by gangs but also “politicians, business people and police officers.” He added that the IMPACS report had recommended that all fingered in the investigation of so-called “gross violations of human rights” be brought to justice.
The report has been at the office of the DPP for several weeks, without comment.
As I write I have been assured by a reliable source that the government is consulting with a legal team on the early retirement of a number of senior police officers “in the public interest.” These include police commissioner Vernon Francois whose leave has twice been extended this year by the public service commission following the prime minister’s address on the IMPACS report.
Quizzed about the IMPACS report on Wednesday, acting prime minister Philip J Pierre told an HTS reporter: “We cannot get involved in specifics. The report is not a public document, but I have confidence in the words of the prime minister.”
Asked about the effects of IMPACS on police morale Pierre said: “I do not know that either. You see, I have no means of measuring that.”